By Ryan Velez
When you’re stopped by police, it’s often difficult to keep track of your rights, especially if you are Black and know the history of the relationship between law enforcement and the community. 36-year-old tech entrepreneur and Davidson College graduate Mbey Njie notes that things differ by state, but you should never not be able to know your rights. The Charlotte Observer reports that he’s doing something about this: creating an app to help people when they are stopped by police.
Nije’s smartphone app, “Legal Equalizer,” helps you understand your rights and also alerts selected contacts in your phone that you’ve been stopped by a police officer. A built-in video feature uses your phone’s camera to record the interaction and the video is automatically saved. The need for this comes from a personal place for Nije, who says he is frequently pulled over for minor traffic violations. He recalls his time in college when the surrounding area was 90% white.
“If you went off campus 10 times, every four to six times, as a young black male, you’re going to get pulled over by a police officer from the town of Davidson,” Njie said. “Most times, they would try to search your car and ask you questions.”
In the first two years, Njie’s Legal Equalizer saw nearly 100,000 app downloads. Similar apps exist from the American Civil Liberties Union, Cop Watch, and Five-O. Where Legal Equalizer stands apart is the fact that it offers links to local legal help and descriptions of state and federal laws relevant to police searches, DUIs, and drug possession. He’s even found some support from law enforcement. Shortly after launching Legal Equalizer in 2016, Nije singled out Dr. Cedric Alexander, the director of public safety in DeKalb County, Georgia. Njie said too many Black drivers were targeted for minor traffic violations.
Alexander, who is also Black, responded to Njie: “Find a way to make a difference and not just complain. Get on the resolution train.” The two would later meet. “He was slamming me. But, that’s part of what we have to do in policing. We have to reach out,” Alexander said.
Alexander, a former police chief and now deputy mayor of Rochester, N.Y., supports Legal Equalizer as a citizen education tool. But, he cautions against using the app’s bank of law briefs to argue with police officers.
“Don’t say ‘Well, under North Carolina law, this and that,” Alexander said. “This is something we can take up in the court room … We don’t want officers to allow themselves to get pulled into a legal debate on the street.”